That's a fact. The fastest action in town happens each Monday evening within the confines of State's workout facilities with this version of the Dog races. It is all one part of the overall strength, conditioning, and training program that began the first week of January and will continue up to the beginning of spring camp March 24. Then, to resume after the April 18 Maroon-White Game for the balance of the semester.
The head coach has been busy enough since returning from the B.C.S. national championship game with all the other aspects of his top job. Recruiting, primarily, as well as finalizing and organizing his assistant staff for work with the current roster. Planning for spring camp gets truly intense now, and Monday morning Mullen held a four-hour meeting with the revamped State staff that essentially signaled a start to this next spring phase.
Yet with all the focus on signing players and planning camp, the assistant Mullen has spoken with most often has neither been out recruiting nor will direct a position on the field. Mullen said that he and strength coach Matt Balis are in, it's fair to say, frequent touch. "About 15 times a day! Either I'm calling him or he's calling me 15 times a day."
Small wonder, because both have a lot to discuss regarding the regimen installed for this first semester together. Because of class scheduling the ‘speed school' portion takes place on Monday evenings. Wednesday mornings mean matt drills for the players, while Thursday is agility-type work. And of course there is the standard sorts of weightlifting in the Holliman Center.
"And all of those address mental and physical toughness," said Mullen today. "Learning how to compete, learning how to win. And obviously getting faster."
Obviously indeed. Now considering that everyone on the able-and-available spring roster was one of if not the ablest athletes on their high school or junior college squads, it would seem reasonable to think they arrived at Mississippi State sufficiently experienced in running. Or at least had been adequately prepared by a year or two of varsity experience in the SEC.
Mullen makes no such assumptions.
"No, I don't. A lot of our guys are learning how to run. They're learning how to compete. They're learning how to be physically and mentally tough. That's what our off-season conditioning program is alllll about. We may do it different than a lot of schools." Certainly this is a change in direction for the Bulldogs.
Particularly the dimension this coach insists is necessary to bring out both the best acceleration and attitude an athlete is capable of here. Hence, the racing. "Everything we do is competitive," explained Mullen.
"So we'll have tens, twenties, little agility races, some of those things. Just teaching to see who is fast. And who wins. There's a winner and a loser in every race. So we find out who wins and who loses." Mullen didn't say whether there is any penalty for defeat at speed school, but the innate pride of young male athletes probably takes care of that aspect.
While his boss was busy recruiting, Balis has now had a full month with the varsity and redshirt Dogs. Without offering any specifics, Mullen summarized the strength coach's conversations as "We're getting there. I don't know what the players are feeling like! We're getting there." As for the handful of veterans still recovering from 2008 injuries, "I think everything is positive so far," Mullen said.
"We've got a long way to go but we don't play for a long time. The nice deal for our kids right now is we're developing all of those traits in this off-season program."
Especially the competitive traits, as every Monday night at the races brings a winner, a loser…and calls for a rematch the next week.